Monday, December 29, 2008

Time Tangos On

Doesn't that just have a catchier ring to it?

If one is going to use an image of moving forward to describe time, rather than use one that conveys plodding along wearily or dutifully--not really knowing where one is being forced to go--why not use one that evokes style and grace. Sophistication and self-assured poise...perhaps a hint of mystique and charm. I for one would rather DANCE through life, than march.

This might look like a picture of a simple clock radio, but it is SO much more. This clock was one of my Christmas presents in 1979. I always got to open one gift on Christmas Eve, and it was fortuitous that I chose this one, because then I could set it to wake myself up for the first time on Christmas morning. When it went off at 9:30 (in time to get ready for church), the very first song I heard was John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)." How cool was THAT?

Nearly 30 years later, that radio is still working perfectly. It has stood the test of time. I can relate so much to that damn clock. That clock is ME.

The celebration of New Year's Eve/Day always sharpens the focus on the passage of time. More so, the older we get. Once past 40, there is so much life under the many New Year's Eves past to remember, all filed away in the memory vault.

Being right in the middle of life--halfway through, if I live to a typical old age--it's kind of exciting. I've lived through enough New Years to see how VERY much life can change in just 3 years. How you can become a completely different person from one decade to the next.

I won't lie. I am wondering what my life will look like at the end of 2009 already. I'm wondering how it will change, which dreams will come to fruition, and who will still be alive. Will my book be selling like crazy, or fading into the background because it just wasn't everyone's cup of tea. Where will I be when I meet my Beloved...the person who just might share the rest of my life?

None of it worries me. It's all just innocent, childlike wonder....and I know enough now to make sure I stay in each moment, as the year slowly unfolds. I don't want to miss one detail.

And now I hear the violins, piano, bass and bandoneons starting up...I've just placed the rose in my teeth. Let's tango.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Writing a Biography

The memoir/biography genre was completely new to me, as a writer, but like just about everything else I've ever done for the first time--it was baptism by fire.

Last winter, my sister-in-law commissioned me to write the life story of my brother, for their seven-year-old son. Since my brother has a terminal illness, my nephew will live most of his life without really knowing his dad, and thus the need for an archival book.

After making a loose outline (childhood, teen years, college/marriage etc..) I set about interviewing my brother in a series of sessions over winter and springtime. These were very precious visits for me, because I learned so much about an era of my family in which I didn't exist. I discovered new and personal perspectives behind legendary family stories in which Tony was the hero or the villain or just a comical participant. One thing's for sure...there was never a dull moment in his very full and very impressive life.

The interviews were a challenge to me, for many reasons. For one, my brother's voice has diminished to a Brando-as-Godfather rasp, and I felt bad having to ask him to repeat himself over and over. For another, I had to revisit his daughter's suicide back in 1998...but that ended up being very therapeutic and not as bad as I thought. The biggest challenge, I think, was the dark shadow hanging constantly over my head of WHY I was writing this book--and having to ask things like, "What words of wisdom would you like to leave your son with?"

When I began the manuscript, I sat in a coffeehouse trying to figure out why in the hell I was so agitated and anxious. I finally looked down at the page on my screen and realized that I was writing in the past tense.....and my brother is not gone, yet. It felt wrong to write as though he were. I started over in the present tense...and then everything began to flow.

I had fun dragging out the many family albums and scanning old photos of my siblings in puffy crinoline Easter dresses, crew cuts, pointy cat glasses and pedal pushers. I relished the sight of them all as tiny, innocent children--younger than their own children are today. I ended up scanning WAY more than I needed for the book, and posting them on Facebook so that some of them (and some cousins as well) could enjoy them.

I loved the emails that came pouring in from family members, after I solicited "Tony memories" from them...especially the grandchildren in the family. These were the quotes and eyewitness accounts I incorporated into the manuscript, verbatim, just like a real documentary.

Writing this biography took me on a journey. Not only did it take me back in time to an era of fin-cars, baseball played in sandlots, the Mickey Mouse Club, and the very first McDonalds...but it also took me through the inner workings of government contracting. It took me to California beaches and mountains, trips to several national parks out west, and even to the Himalayas! My brother did plenty of LIVING while he was young and healthy. With an adventurous spirit that rivals my own, he seized life with both hands and never stopped until the day Multiple System Atrophy took over his body.

I finished the manuscript just before Thanksgiving and handed it over to my sister-in-law to print out for both of them to review. I can't wait to see what they think.

Discovery as a writer: I LOVE writing biographies! But especially when I am close to the subject, as I am my brother.